Crispy Gamer

Can you do Kodu?

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I haven’t tried to program anything since elementary school when a heavy yellow Compu*Tech binder initiated me to the secrets of “If…Then” loops. Reviewing and writing about video games has kept a tiny spark of programming interest alive in my brain, so I let Microsoft show me Kodu, their new game programming platform.

If you’re thinking, “Wait, didn’t Microsoft already deliver XNA to wannabe developers a little while ago?” then you’d be right. Games developed with the XNA toolset–like The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai– wind up on Xbox Live’s Community Games channel. The lead on the Kodu project, Matt MacLaurin, also works closely with the company’s XNA team, and says one of the main differences is that Kodu happens entirely on the console via a graphical user interface.

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The interface basically allows users to build conditional rule-sets, map specific functions to specific inputs like the analog sticks or face buttons and control the geometry of the world. I said to MacLaurin that this was what I wanted XNA to be from the start and he answered that they wanted Kodu to make anyone feel like they can program. Kodu started as research into kids’ programming so sitting grade-schoolers in front of lines of code wasn’t an option. Part of the team’s impetus was democratizing the idea of game-making, with the goal of diversifying in terms of age race and gender.

 

The characters and graphics have a certain amount for Japanese pop-art charm and what I saw of Kodu was surprisingly supple. I saw a first-person racer and played and coded through the skeleton of a 3D action-shooter. MacLaurin showed me how different characters can share the same AI pattern and how multiple users can edit code at the same time. When I asked MacLaurin what he thought of LittleBigPlanet, he confessed that he had to stay away from the PS3’s platformer and its content-creation abilities in order to avoid concepts creeping into Kodu. He did say that they’ll be delivering more than just a level editor. “There’s not a lot of stuff with this kind of creative constructive flavor on the 360,” said MacLaurin. “But, with Xbox Live and the Community Games channel, we think it’s well-poised to pull people in.” He added that there isn’t a framework in place for Kodu-developed games to wind up on Xbox Live yet, but they’re open to the idea.

With a price soemewhere between 400 and 800 Microsoft points, Kodu will launch in mid-May with 20 “starter worlds” that you’ll be able to tweak with your own ideas. As someone who found LBP’s tools very taxing to come to grips with, Kodu intrigues me with the idea that I actually might make something.